Almost all of the inmates at Alaska’s largest prison contracted Covid-19 as prisons across the country hit their highest level of positive cases this month.
A spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Corrections, Sarah Gallagher, told the Anchorage Daily News that about 1,115 out of the 1,236 inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center had tested positive.
The correctional center near Anchorage reported its first case of Covid-19 in November. As of Monday, 112 cases were considered active, Gallagher said. More than 40% of the state’s total prison population contracted the disease, and five prisoners died statewide.
Prisons are one of the environments at the highest risk for the spread of infectious diseases because inmates cannot socially distance themselves and depend on prison for their health and safety.
In mid-December, new cases in prisons reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, according to the Associated Press and the Marshall Project. Their data also showed that one in five prisoners of state and federal governments in the United States tested positive for Covid-19.
Of more than 275,000 infected prisoners, more than 1,700 died. The total number of cases is probably higher because not all inmates have been tested. Prison staff have also been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
The United States is home to 22% of the world’s prison population and public health experts have called for the release of medically fragile and older prisoners, those nearing the end of their sentences, and those at low risk. Defenders have also called for the release of those incarcerated because they cannot afford to pay a cash bond, a payment to the court forced to leave the prison pending a hearing.
The broadcasts, however, were slow. In the first three months of the pandemic, more than 10,000 federal prisoners requested humanitarian release, but only 156 requests were approved, according to the PA and Project Marshall.